Most people know Delta-9 THC, the famous and illicit cannabinoid simply called “THC.” However, only a few aficionados truly understand exotic cannabinoids like Delta-8 THC, Delta-10 THC, HHC, THCOa(THCO), and THCP.
These novel cannabinoids are all psychoactive, and some exist naturally in hemp and cannabis plants, like Delta-9. However, most exotic cannabinoids are semi-synthetically made and have unique qualities that consumers need to understand. The main difference between exotic cannabinoids and Delta-9 THC is how they occur, their molecular structures, psychoactive intensity, and legality.
Here we compare today’s top trending exotic cannabinoids so consumers can make the most informed decisions.
What Is Delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 THC is an exotic cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp plants in trace amounts.
Delta-8 products are semi-synthetic, unleashing psychoactive effects like Delta-9 THC with unique qualities.
Delta-8 THC Experience
Delta-8 produces a mild psychoactive experience that users describe as calming and euphoric. Delta-8 can reduce feelings of nausea and provides many known benefits of THC. In one study, 71% of Delta-8 users reported relaxation, 68% experienced euphoria, and more than 50% got relief from pain.
Delta-8 compared to Delta-9
Delta-8 appears to have a lower affinity for the brain’s CB1 receptor, making it less potent than Delta-9 THC. Most consumers say Delta-8 is noticeably milder than Delta-9 and has an “indica-like” high due to its sedative properties. Its lower potency also means Delta-8 is less likely to cause adverse effects, such as paranoia.
Delta-8 and Delta-9 have the same molecular formula with different atomic arrangements. Both cannabinoids contain a double-carbon bond but on different atom rings. In Delta-8, the double carbon bond falls on the 8th atom ring, while Delta-9’s falls on the 9th—hence the names. Scientists believe this difference partly explains Delta-8’s effects and potency variation.
Cannabinoid Type: THC isomer
How Are Delta-8 Products Made?
Delta-8 THC is a byproduct of plant degradation. When cannabis is exposed to heat, its Delta 9 THC content breaks down through a process called decarboxylation and trace amounts transform into Delta-8. However, Delta-8 products are not natural extracts. Most Delta-8 products are synthesized from CBD.
Processors extract CBD from hemp and convert it into Delta-8 THC using a blend of chemical solvents (like heptane) and acids (like hydrochloric) in a process called “isomerization.”
Delta-8 Hemp and Cannabis Products
Delta-8 is one of the fastest-growing compounds on the hemp market. It’s available in many cannabis and hemp-based products that consumers can inhale, ingest, and apply topically, including:
- Distillate cartridges
- Distillate syringes
- Vape cartridges
- Gummies and edibles
- Flower (sprayed with Delta-8 distillate)
Delta-8 Legality: Updated October 2022
Delta-8 is federally legal. However, due to its production methods and lack of comprehensive legislation, many states have introduced bills that explicitly prohibit Delta-8 and other exotic cannabinoids made through isomerization. So far, 17 states, including Colorado, Washington, New York, and Michigan, have banned Delta-8. Check out our State-by-State Delta-8 Legality Guide for the latest updates.
What Is Delta-10 THC?
Delta-10 THC, like Delta-8 occurs as byproduct of plant degradation. Delta-10 products are semi-synthetic, and their effects tend to be more energizing and less potent than other THC isomers.
Delta-10 THC Experience
Delta-10 users report an uplifting and energizing experience with a gentle head buzz. Reddit users claim similar effects to Delta-8 THC, albeit less potent, likening Delta-10 to a Sativa strain’s “mind high” instead of a physical body high. Many describe Delta-10 as a great daytime product that enhances motivation, creativity, and cognitive function.
Delta-10 compared to Delta-9
Delta-10 is less potent than Delta-9, likely due to a weaker binding affinity to receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Delta-10 offers euphoria and increased focus with buzzy, energizing qualities similar to a Sativa strain but without the paranoia and anxiety some users report from Delta-9.
Delta-10 and Delta-9 have nearly identical chemical structures with double carbon atom rings. However, that bond occurs on the 9th atom ring in Delta-9 and on the 10th ring in Delta-10, hence their respective names. This atomic similarity makes Delta-10 a THC isomer.
Molecule Type: THC isomer
How Are Delta-10 Products Made?
Delta-10, like Delta-8, appears in trace quantities in cannabis plants. As a result, manufacturers can’t extract enough to make products. So they utilize an isomerization process similar to Delta-8. Here’s how it works: Producers usually extract hemp-derived CBD using chemical solvents and convert the CBD into Delta-10 using solvents and acids.
Delta-10 Hemp and Cannabis Products
Delta-10 products are increasingly popular, and many product types are on the market for users to vape and ingest. Delta-10 cannabis and hemp-derived products include:
- Disposable pens
- Vape cartridges
- Tinctures and oils
- Dabbing syringes
- Chocolate bars
- Flower and pre-rolls (sprayed with Delta-10 distillate)
Delta-10 products are federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill if sourced from hemp containing less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. Currently, Delta-10 THC is legal in most states. However, as with Delta-8, some states have outlawed Delta-10, so customers need to check local laws before purchasing these products.
Comparing Delta 10 to Delta 8 and Delta 9 THC Molecules
What Is HHC?
HHC (hexahydrocannabinol) is a hydrogenated derivative of Delta-9 THC. It does not occur naturally in hemp and cannabis plants. HHC products are semi-synthetically produced from cannabis extracts via a “hydrogenation” process.
HHC users report a gradual, euphoric high followed by a smooth, calming experience. Many say it produces a less energetic high than typical sativas and is more cerebral and other-worldly.
HHC compared to Delta-9: Consumers observe that HHC induces less-potent psychoactive effects than conventional Delta-9 THC. Still, some say HHC lasts much longer than Delta-9 (up to 12 hours).
HHC is not a tetrahydrocannabinol like Delta-8, Delta-9, or Delta-10. HHC belongs to a different chemical class known as hexahydrocannabinol. HHC has no double carbon bonds and is completely saturated, or fully hydrogenated. The hydrogen molecules in HHC also make it more stable, allowing HHC products to withstand oxidation, heat, and ultraviolet light better than THC.
Molecule Type: Hydrogenated derivative of THC. Also considered a THC analog compound.
How Are HHC Products Made?
HHC is typically made from Delta-8 THC through a process called hydrogenation. Producers start with hemp-derived CBD, which they convert to Delta-8. Then they use two active catalysts (typically heavy metals) to break apart Delta-8’s double-atom bonds and insert two hydrogen atoms, converting Delta-8 THC to HHC.
HHC Hemp and Cannabis Products
HHC is a recent entry into the hemp market, so fewer product offerings exist. Two common HHC product types on the market currently include:
- Vape cartridges
HHC is federally legal because it is a hemp derivative covered under the 2018 Farm Bill. However, as state and federal agencies continue to ban Delta-8 THC and other synthetic cannabinoids, some have also banned analogs like HHC.
What Is THCOa (also called THCO)?
THCOa, often called THCO or THC-O, is an exotic cannabinoid that some users report is three times as potent as Delta-9. THC-O acetate does not naturally occur in hemp or cannabis plants. As a result, the DEA recently issued an opinion that it does not fall under the Farm Bill's hemp definition.
THCO is an incredibly potent cannabinoid that produces intense euphoria and viscerally relaxing effects. Many consider THCO more of an evening substance because of its physically sedating properties. In larger doses, some say THC-O can be borderline psychedelic with potent couch-lock effects.
THCO compared to Delta-9
THCO is a more potent analog of Delta-9 THC, meaning its psychedelic effects can be more intense. It takes longer to kick in, but the consensus says that THCO is around three times more potent than traditional Delta-9 THC. Some claims suggest that THCO is more bioavailable than other forms of THC, meaning more THCO makes it to the bloodstream.
Commercial THCO products typically share the same base structure as Delta-8 THC. However, THCO is an acetylated version created by taking Delta-8 and binding it with acetic anhydride, a high-inflammable and colorless liquid used to make fibers, plastics, pharmaceuticals, and dyes.
Molecule Type: Acetylated derivative of THC. Also considered a THC analog.
How Are THCO Products Made?
Manufacturers synthesize THC-O through a chemical process. First, they start with hemp-derived Delta-8 or Delta-9 THC. Then they combine the THC molecules with acetic anhydride to convert Delta-8 to THC-O.
THCO Hemp and Cannabis Products
THCO is a relatively recent cannabinoid to hit the market. Most THC-O products feature a blend of other hemp-derived cannabinoids and mainly include:
- Vape cartridges
The DEA recently issued a statement that Delta-8 and Delta-9 THCO fall under the Controlled Substances act because they don't occur naturally in hemp plants. It remains unclear whether the DEA will do anything to enforce this opinion. Likely, brands will continue operating in a legal gray area.
What Is THCP?
THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol) is a THC analog. One paper indicates it occurs naturally, but the verification came from a synthetic cannabis sample so the jury is still out. The paper found that THCP exhibited 30x higher CB1 binding affinity than Delta-9. This discovery suggests THCP could have significantly more potent effects than standard THC.
THCP is the most potent THC analog available today. While there isn’t much information surrounding THCP and how it feels, the few people who have tried it say the effects are similar to Delta-9 THC, only much stronger and more stimulating. People even describe the THCP experience as “psychedelic-like,” saying it can amplify sounds and colors, an uncommon effect with traditional THC.
THCP compared to Delta-9
The few who have tried THCP suggest its effects were 5 to 10 times stronger than regular Delta-9 THC.
THCP has a similar molecular structure as Delta-8, Delta-9, and Delta-10. However, these THC molecules have five carbon atoms on their alkyl side chains, while THCP contains a seven-atom side chain. According to the Italian report, the two additional atoms might explain THCP’s stronger binding affinity and effects.
Molecule Type: THC homolog
How THCP Products Are Made
THCP products are completely synthetically produced, according to chemist Dr. Mark Scialdone of BetterChem Consulting. In a Cannigma article, Dr. Scialdone said:
“THCP directly can be synthesized in a chemical reaction called a terpenylation of 5-heptyl resorcinol (the 7 carbon analog to 5-pentyl resorcinol aka olivetol) with an oxygenated derivative of limonene called PMD in processes described in the chemical literature vide infra.” Or, to put it simply, a long-chained THC precursor and a oxygen-containing terpene are two primary ingredients being used to produce synthetic THCP. 5”
THCP Hemp and Cannabis Products
Few THCP products exist on the market, but THCP uses are the same as other cannabinoids. Available THC-O products include:
- Vape cartridges
The federal government does not specifically ban THCP, but that could change due to THCP products' synthetic nature. THCP brands are currently operating in a legal gray area.
HHCP (hexahydrocannabiphorol) is a very rare and powerful exotic cannabinoid. It is the hydrogenated counterpart of THCP and structurally similar to HHC.
HHCP is gaining popularity due to its molecular structure, making it feel ten times more potent than Delta-9.
Users indicate that the HHCP experience feels like THCP, the strongest cannabinoid on the market, but with longer-lasting effects. As a result, HHCP feels significantly more powerful and euphoric than Delta-9 THC, capable of causing an extended period of blissful sedation.
HHCP has the same structure as HHC but with two more carbons in its alkaline chain than HHC. Researchers believe HHCP’s additional carbons increase its ability to bind with cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system. As a result, HHCP will produce a stronger psychoactive effect.
How HHCP Products Are Made
HHCP products are not natural. Manufacturers produce this exotic cannabinoid through the hydrogenation of THCP.
HHCP is a new cannabinoid, so most manufacturers don’t make it yet. However, consumers can still find HHCP disposable vapes, cartridges, dabs, concentrates, and even flowers sprayed with HHCP distillate.
Like THCP, HHCP exists in a legal gray area. The DEA has not issued an opinion.
Key Differences between Delta-9, Delta-8, Delta-10, HHC, THCO (THCOa), THCP, and HHCP
One of the key differences between these compounds is how they’re made. Unlike Delta-9 THC, which occurs naturally in large quantities and is extracted directly from the plant to make various products, Delta-8, Delta-10, HHC, THC-O, THCP, and HHCP are extremely rare or non-existent in the plant. As a result, these analogs and homologs are commonly made by chemically altering hemp-derived CBD or through fully synthetic processes.
Legality is another crucial area of distinction. Delta-9 THC is a Schedule I controlled substance and THCO falls under the Controlled Substances Act. On the other hand, hemp-derived THC compounds are federally legal under the Farm Bill and HHCP and THCP exists in a gray area where it's neither banned nor explicitly federally legal.
A few more notable differences from Delta-9 THC include:
- Delta-8, Delta-10, and HHC are less potent than Delta-9.
- THCO, HHCP, and THCP are considerably more powerful.
- Delta-8, HHC, and HHCP are more calming, with sedative “indica-like” qualities.
- Delta-10 and THCP are more stimulating, with energizing “Sativa-like” qualities.
- All have slight differences in their atomic or molecular structures that contribute to their unique effects.
Delta-9 THC, Delta-8, Delta-10, HHC, THCO(THCOa), THCP, and HHCP all exhibit psychoactive effects in some form. A few more notable similarities include the following:
- Delta-8, Delta-10, HHC, and THCO(THCOa) are created semi-synthetically from hemp-derived extracts.
- All appear to interact with cannabinoid receptors in the body to produce therapeutic effects, such as euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief.
- These compounds are available in many similar product forms, including flowers, gummies, tinctures, and vapes.
- All THC isomers and homologs will appear on a standard drug test. HHC and HHCP may not be because they’re different compounds, but more research is needed to confirm that assumption.
The Bottom Line
Delta-9 is the most well-researched and well-understood psychoactive compound. Still, recent hemp industry innovations show Delta-9 may not be the most potent or desired product. Customers may prefer exotic cannabinoids due to their experience profiles, legality, and product types.
Regardless of the cannabinoid choice, all customers must look for hemp brands that publish a Certificate of Analysis (COA) featuring their product’s safety and potency test results. Additionally, all exotic cannabinoids must be tested for manufacturing chemicals, such as solvents, acids, and metals.
At ACS Laboratory, we test Delta-8, Delta-10, HHC, HHCP, THCO(THCOa), and THCP for potency and chemical contaminants. Contact us to learn more about our exotic cannabinoid testing.
Blog updated Feb 15, 2023 to accurately reflect exotic cannabinoid legality and production methods.